Parquet Courts: Sympathy for Life (Rough Trade) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Parquet Courts

Sympathy for Life

Rough Trade

Oct 26, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Parquet Courts have been a band on the cutting edge of the rock scene for a while now. Between Light Up Gold, Human Performance, and, most recently, Wide Awake!, these country-boys-turned-punks have amassed one of the most consistently good discographies of the past decade in a genre oft-called dead. Their success can be largely attributed to their balance of punk’s in-your-face ethos with catchy hooks, head-bobbing grooves, and well-timed hints of their western past.

While Wide Awake! focused on the “punk” of dance-punk, Sympathy for Life doubles down on “dance”; think more Talking Heads than Stooges. The net gain is more danceable songs that jettison hard rock energy for electronic groove and musical repetition. It’s a tradeoff that works better on some tracks than others. “Marathon of Anger” benefits: a hypnotic chant inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that’d fit in on Depeche Mode’s Violator. The more rock oriented “Black Widow” suffers: whereupon co-lead vocalist Andrew Savage’s vocals sound atypically drab and the band’s performance is lacking.

This shift in sound can be partially explained by the pandemic. After years of relentless touring, Parquet Courts were finally able to take their time crafting this album away from the road. Perhaps that’s why it feels less cohesive than their other work; born out of an elongated creative process and the desire to make something other than another rock album. While Andrew Savage was lifting weights on acid to get into the right songwriting headspace (it’s true, it’s true), other co-lead vocalist Austin Brown—disillusioned with the hero worship of the indie rock scene—was becoming enamored with the tight-knit New York DJ music community.

And building that sense of community in a post-isolation word shows up as a common theme, specifically on the funky title track. The house inspiration is really all over this thing: when “Plant Life” funks around with trance-inspired synths or “Application/Apparatus” captures the isolation of a rideshare driver observing the fast-paced world around him through a swirl of organic and electronic instrumental layering. What the band has essentially done is incorporate elements of electronic music into their sound without losing their identity. Those driving punk rock elements that made Parquet Courts indie darlings in the first place are still present throughout; specifically on two of the promotional singles, “Homo Sapien” and “Walking at a Downtown Pace.” Unsurprisingly, they’re two of the most energetic tracks on the record (and two of the best), the latter owing to the groove laid down by bassist Sean Yeaton.

The fusion of all these elements leads to an intriguing, if uneven listen (it’s hard to defend the penultimate snoozer “Trullo”). Do they succeed at evolving their sound? The vote is yes. Does it outdo Wide Awake!? The vote is no, but that hardly matters. They’re such different albums that it’s easy to see those more attuned to electronic music digging this far more than rock guys. These guys are such creative songwriters that almost anything they put out is a pleasure to listen to.

The stunning six-minute closing ballad “Pulcinella” is possibly the most beautiful song Parquet Courts has ever recorded. “I drag a chain of faces and names,” Andrew Savage earnestly croons over dreamlike guitars. “Some I’ve cut off, some were lost/Somе will always be locked to me.” Christ. Last time around Savage closed up shop trying to fight off nihilism. If Sympathy For Life is any indication, he’s succeeding. (www.parquet-courts.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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